An interview with Terra Whiteman

Terra Whiteman is a scientist by profession, a philosopher by hobby, and author of The Antithesis series. After graduating with a degree in biochemistry, Terra now works as a clinical toxicologist while continuing her writing endeavors on the side. Whiteman’s genres include science fiction and gritty dark fantasy, sewing together intricate plots and philosophical themes.

The Antithesis is my favourite indie series, and one of very few series that I follow compulsively. I seldom make it past book two, even if I like a series, but Terra’s characters and ideas have kept me hooked through four books and I’m eagerly awaiting the final novel, due to be published later this year. In the meantime, I asked her to tell me a bit about her life as a writer and her thoughts on The Antithesis.

Tell us a bit about your journey as a writer.

Not much to say, really. I’d never actually considered writing professionally until I was approached by 1889 Labs. I ran a web serial as a hobby and it ended up attracting a lot more attention that I’d anticipated. I think The Antithesis had over three thousand regular readers that showed up each week to read each chapter (at the time called ‘episodes’) before I signed a contract with 1889 Labs. The Antithesis itself was sort of an escape from my real life as a broke, overworked and sleep-deprived student. Before The Antithesis I’d only ever written short stories which I’ve never published or even let anyone read.

As an indie author, you’re responsible for so much more than just writing the book. What has your experience been with the publication of The Antithesis series?

Actually it’s not that much different than traditional publishing. I don’t self-publish (self-published and independent published authors seem to be blocked together nowadays; before that wasn’t really the case). I have two editors, one for content and grammar and the other for contininuity and flow. I write the books, send it to one, then the other, and then it gets published after hours of arguments and tantrums and negotiations over what I should and shouldn’t change.

I think the real difference is the fact that I do have more control. Though my book covers are designed for me, I get to tell them what I want. I also get a say in how I want to price books and promote books. 1889 Labs is an independent publishing company, and albeit small, they’re very efficient in giving the author as many resources as possible. They even gave me my own publicist.

The Antithesis takes a sci fi approach to the war between Heaven and Hell. Nothing is as you’d expect it to be, and there aren’t even any gods in the traditional sense. What inspired this story?The Antithesis was actually a scientific project in a literary sense. I’m a biochemistry major with a serious passion for philosophy. That being said, The Antithesis (which will be called TA from this moment on) isn’t actually about the war between Heaven and Hell. At its core, it’s about relationships and a complete rejection of duality. The entire point of this story is the fallacy of good and evil and there was no better way to set the stage than to use the two most renowned symbols for these polarizing ideals: angels and demons. TA explores a very messy shades of gray character cast, set within an idea of how Heaven and Hell might exist, could it actually be explained in a scientific sense.

How has your background as a biochemist influenced the series? 

I’ve been obsessed with the biochemical sciences since early high school. It’s one of my passions, and it was only natural for me to incorporate it into the series. I feel the hard science in TA gives it a very realistic component to the otherwise fantastical premise of the story. Basing the Vel’Haru race off of the biological behavior of ants, for example, allows readers to quell the disbelief of certain elements revolving around them. Providing a world with a gaseous, oceanic core while its land masses are actually suspended above it in layered islands because of the alterations in gravity allows a more realistic approach to how the Nehel (or the angels and demons for that matter) could have evolved into winged beings.

And, well, the only obvious representation of God would be a genetic engineer. Clearly. Though giving him OCD and making him a teenage prodigy was a nice touch, don’t you think?

I do 🙂 

Your main character, Qaira Eltruan, is one the most temperamental, reckless bastards I’ve ever come across in a book. He’s killed so many people and is even responsible for the collapse of his own society. How did you come to create such an unlikeable character, and yet still allow the reader to empathise with him, even like him (I like him; I can’t explain it).

Qaira is an enigma. He took a lot of planning. And although he’s an arrogant self-righteous bastard, he’s necessary. You can’t explain why you like him because we’re taught throughout our entire lives that some actions are good while others are, well, not good. In our functioning society this might be true. However for a project that deals with an underlining theory that good and evil doesn’t actually exist, Qaira is the supporting evidence. He’s neither evil nor good; he’s a moral nihilist. He does what suits him and isn’t necessarily restricted to any forms of moral principles. But his goals aren’t usually sinister, and he does have the capacity to love and care for others. Actually, his love for Leid is proof enough that he does in fact have a heart. He would do anything for her.

He and Yahweh also have a very interesting friendship. Despite being complete opposites – one a benevolent leader who is bound to his moral principles, the other a reckless temperamental ex-Regent who frequently walks the line between villain and hero – they respect each other and understand that their existences are necessary.

TA purposely places readers into uncomfortable and sometimes appalling situations in order to make them question how they themselves would react. We have plenty of ethical guidelines–one specifically being that ‘killing is intrinsically wrong’ (thanks Kant), but in some situations is it actually wrong? Could we honestly say we wouldn’t fall apart or lose our sense of morality in moments of grief, despair or fury? We can’t truly hate Qaira because despite all of the horrible shit he does throughout the series, there’s always a reason for it.

The next book – Three Beta – will be the last in the series. Do you have any plans for future projects?

I already have two books of a new trilogy completed, which will be out sometime in 2013-2014. It takes place in the TA multiverse and explores all of the things TA fails to explain (much because Qaira knows nothing about them). This is a prelude to The Antithesis, and the title of the series is called The Sanctuary.

I am also currently working on a stand-alone science fiction novel titled The Key of Ascension. It’s a clash of steampunk and dystopian/apocalyptic with a strong emphasis on genetics/eugenics. Very violent and not for children.

Very violent and not for children? Awesome 🙂 I can’t wait to check out the new books. Thanks for taking the time out to chat on Violin in a Void!

Looking for Terra?
Email: terra[AT]1889[DOT]ca
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Links to my reviews of the books in The Antithesis series

Book One
Book Two Alpha
Book Two Beta
Book Three Alpha

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Review of The Antithesis: Book 3α by Terra Whiteman

Title: The Antithesis: Book 3α
Author: Terra Whiteman
Published: 16 February 2012
Publisher: 1889 Labs
Genre: science fiction, mythology
Source: eARC from the author
Rating: 7/10

There have been some major developments in the short time since Alezair Czynri stormed off to the Nexus to reclaim his memories as Qaira Eltruan, at the end of Book One. Lucifer has decided to declare all-out hot war on Heaven and go to battle. He loves Yahweh like a son, but he can no longer stand to see his people suffer and he hopes that a full-scale war will force the conflict to finally be resolved.

Into this volatile situation comes an enraged Qaira Eltruan. He knows now that he was once ruler of Sanctum and a race known as the Nehelians, of which he is now the only survivor. For decades he’d waged war against the angels, an alien race who took refuge on his planet and then refused to leave. Qaira loathed their then-commander, Lucifer Raith, so much that he slaughtered thousands of his own people in an attempt to assassinate the angel. He finally learns why Alezair was so captivated by Leid – Qaira met her 900 years ago, fallen deeply love with her, and spent a blissful decade as her husband. Then it all ended when Qaira’s act of mass murder pushed Leid into chaotic, destructive state. She slaughtered the Nehelians and reduced Sanctum to rubble.

Leid appeared to be on the verge of another such rampage at the end of Book One, but she appears to have recovered for now, and just in time too. She has to deal with the husband who she has deceived for over a century, and with the war that’s about to be fought. Hell’s forces greatly outnumber Heaven’s, so to even the odds the Vel’Haru Judges decide to fight for Yahweh and the angels.

That’s not the only battle everyone needs to worry about. Leid is still expiring, and needs to be killed or she’ll start slaughtering people by the thousands. Unknown to most, she’s also at risk of being infected by the Scarlet Queen – the same infection that caused her to wipe out most of the Vel’Haru, and all the Nehelians centuries before. Qaira doesn’t care about the war, but he does care about Leid, and he asks Yahweh to create find a cure for her before it’s too late.

The Antithesis: Book 3α reads like an explosion, and not just because Qaira is back, angrier and more powerful than ever. Fighter jets take to the skies, guns start firing and deadly war machines are unleashed. Angels and demons alike become cannon fodder, and when the Vel’Haru Judges descend to the battlefields they reduce the demons to blood and gore.

But it’s not all action. There are some very interesting character dynamics in this book. Leid and Qaira have to deal with their very odd relationship. For over a century Leid has worked closely with the man who was once her husband, but remained cold and business-like around him, never revealing his true identity. She also wiped out his entire species, but then again Qaira was responsible for the act of mass murder that caused Leid to be possessed by the Scarlet Queen. It doesn’t take long for Qaira and Leid to forgive each other and get back to the bedroom to start screwing each other’s brains out, especially now that Qaira is a Vel’Haru too and can keep up with his wife. The pair still love each other very much and Qaira is desperately trying to prevent Leid’s imminent expiration, even though she has accepted her fate. He only lived with her for a decade before losing her for nine centuries and he can’t stand how unfair that is.

Qaira hasn’t changed all that much, although he’s trying to. Sort of. He still has a temper like a tornado on a bad day, but he makes a few attempts at impulse control. Leid remarks that he’s no longer Qaira Eltruan or Alezair Czynri, but some sort of fusion. That seemed true at first, but in my opinion it didn’t take him very long to rediscover his old self. I think the real test of his personality will come when he encounters Lucifer, which unfortunately doesn’t happen in this book. However, I have to admit that Qaira has better reasons to be so angry this time around:

For the last nine hundred years I’d been trudging through existence without my memories; a century of which I’d been serving as a Judge in Purgatory, working for Leid Koseling… beneath Yahweh Telei and Lucifer Raith. Truly, I’d been played the fucking fool.

The Archaeans had once feared me, and now I was working for them. I was helping them in their societal and political struggles. I was fucking aiding in their perseverance, within a world that had once belonged to me.

I was now a Vel’Haru. Leid had turned me into the very filth that I so dearly hated; that she hated.

And then I remembered that she slept with Samael Soran. My wife, while I was even there!

But trust Qaira to be unreasonable anyway:

I was standing within a crowd of whites disguised as Nehelians, living in considerable comfort, within a world that was once mine. These phonies deserved death. No, they deserved worse than that.

Yes Qaira, because it’s all just about you. And of course he’s still insanely obsessed with Leid, willing to risk the deaths of thousands, perhaps millions, as long as she lives and he can be with her.

I have to say that I’m getting just a tad annoyed with Leid. In Book One, she was an extremely cold character and I didn’t care much about her. She was more lively in books two alpha and beta, and I now know why she became so sombre, allowing me to empathise with her a bit. However, this is a woman who single-handedly committed two acts of genocide, one of which led to extinction of an entire race, save one member. And now she’s at risk of doing it again. Leid, in my opinion, is way more trouble than she’s worth. On the other hand, I’ve always hated conventional love stories, but I’m ok with this really fucked up one.

As in the previous books, most of the story is told from Qaira’s POV, but occasionally switches to other POVs. Thus, we get to see a bit of Yahweh, one of my favourites. Like Qaira, I tend to see him as the little boy genius from the previous two books, but he’s more like a twenty-something now. He’s far less vibrant, because he carries the weight of the war on his shoulders. He was the one who turned angels into demons, and although he did so to save their lives, the physical changes that he caused led to the current conflict.

There are some chapters from Lucifer’s POV as well. He’s in torment, having expected that Yahweh would soon have to surrender to Hell’s greater forces. Instead, the Vel’Haru’s assistance caused many more deaths than Lucifer expected. Afraid that Yahweh might be killed, Lucifer keeps holding back from a full onslaught.

An interesting new major character is the demon playwright Belial Vakkar. Belial had been working for the Vel’Haru in book one, and he came running to them after Lucificer’s new General, Samnea, tried to kill him. Belial escaped thanks to his pyrokinetic powers, a secret that he’s keeping from everyone. He reveals himself to be a talented marksman though, and becomes a surprising asset to the angel forces. Belial, for whatever reason, is very English and quite amusingly so. It’d be nice to see more of him – and his powers – in the next book.

I do have a few issues with the book. Lucifer goes to war claiming that his people have suffered for long enough, but aside from a cold climate they really don’t seem to be doing too badly, it’s just that the angels have a better deal. The Vel’Haru seem to think that helping the angels is a good idea, but instead it just leads to a longer, bloodier war. I also don’t know why the other Vel’Haru don’t kill Leid, knowing what a threat she is. It’s tradition to kill Vel’Haru before they expire and go insane, so why hold back this time, when Leid is even more dangerous than most? It’s really just Qaira standing in their way, and the senior Vel’Haru could overpower him [my apologies to readers and the author: it was pointed out to me that Leid’s infection by the Scarlet Queen makes her significantly more powerful, and therefore able to defeat the Vel’Haru who do in fact make an attempt to kill her. I’d forgotten about this. Oops…].

As with the previous books, I have some issues with the writing, and as I read I keep wanting to slim down sentences or choose a different word. A common phrase in this novel is “a frown thinned my lips” and this one in particular kept nagging at me. And as before, this doesn’t bother quite as much as I expect it to. I tore through this series, which is weird for me, because I seldom read series, and why I try, I seldom get past book two, even if I like it. I don’t know what exactly makes The Antithesis different for me, so I’ll just have to let my enjoyment speak for itself.

Buy a copy of The Antithesis: Book 3α at Smashwords

Review of The Antithesis: Book 2β by Terra Whiteman

Title: The Antithesis:  Book 2β (Two Beta)
Author: Terra Whiteman
Published: 19 October 2011
Publisher:  1889 Labs
Genre:  genre mash-up of mythology and science fiction
Source: own copy (ebook)
My Rating: 7/10

Terra Whiteman left me dangling from another cliffhanger at the end of The Antithesis: Book 2α.  I was trapped. I had to read the next instalment right away so I clicked my was over to Smashwords and bought the ebook (it’s only $2.99; money very well spent)

Note: this review contains spoilers for books 1 and 2a in the series.

Book 2β picks up a few days after the end of Book 2α. Qaira is in hospital recovering from his fall from the Archaen ship after his devastating battle with Lucifer. He managed to chop off the Archaen’s hand but also got his entire team slaughtered and would most likely have been killed too if Leid hadn’t come to save him.  The battle destroyed half of Sanctum and killed over a hundred thousand Nehel, but achieved absolutely nothing. This is enough to make even Qaira realise what an arrogant, selfish, stupid bastard he’s been and he makes a public apology. When two Vel’Haru come to take Leid back to their home world to be punished for violating the terms of her contract, Qaira caves completely. Devastated at the prospect of losing her forever, he swears to end the conflict and let the Archaens make the Atrium their home if only the Vel’Haru will let Leid stay with him.

The two Vel’Haru agree, and a decade of peace and social reform follows. Sanctum is not just rebuilt but improved upon, with the help of the Archaen’s advanced technology. A slow process of integration begins, and even Lucifer and Qaira manage to work together. Leid and Qaira get married and they live very happily.

Everything is just dandy, but, based on book one, you know that this story can only end in an epic disaster. It keeps the novel a bit tense even during the good times. You’re often reminded that heaven and hell will be at war several centuries from now, thanks to several appearances (in this book and Book 2α) of angels who will later become demons. Book 2β also sees the first cases of the deadly respiratory disease that afflicts the angels. According to book 1, Yahweh will eventually create a cure that (unknown to him) will affect the angels at the genetic level, turning them into demons. I really liked the idea that ‘god’ created the demons and that it was the angels’ prejudice towards this new race that started the war. From books 2α and 2β however, you can understand the root of that prejudice – the demons look just the Nehel (red-rimmed pupils, black wings), who oppressed the angels for decades.

But more important, for now, is the very volatile couple at the centre of the story. You know that Leid is keeping some extremely dangerous secrets, and you know that Qaira is eventually going to do something horrific. If you started to warm to him, know that very soon you’ll almost certainly want to scream curses while beating the crap out of him. He’s struck by an appalling tragedy for which he blames Lucifer and then becomes completely obsessed with revenge. The novel doesn’t definitively state whether or not Lucifer is innocent, but either way, Qaira’s revenge is so destructively over the top that there’s no hope of redemption for him. His actions are also the catalyst for what we know must happen – the extinction of the Nehelian race, with the exception of Qaira who is sent to the Nexus and has his memory wiped, to become Alezair Czynri.

Once the novel concludes the this tale, it leaps back to the time of book one and picks up where that narrative left off, having equipped you with some of the backstory that puts the later story into better context. Alezair Czynri wakes up in the Nexus, having relived the story you just read. He reclaims his identity as Qaira Eltruan, now more pissed off and hateful than ever.  Lucifer, no longer willing to let his people suffer miserable lives in the cold, dark, subterranean levels of the Atrium, makes a decision to change the course of the war.

The novel builds up to fresh conflicts and violent clashes but once again, Whiteman ends it without resolutions. But this time I couldn’t go out and get the next book because, unfortunately, it hasn’t been published yet. I’m told that The Antithesis: Book 3α will be released sometime in February, but an exact date has not been decided upon. I for one cannot wait and will be sure to get my hands on a copy as soon as frickin’ possible.

Buy a copy of The Antithesis: Book 2β